Crafting a Career Story that Keeps You on the Right Path
When did you last really think about how you got to where you are in your career, and the decisions you’ve made about what jobs to take (or leave) along the way? How often do you take time to consider what first drew you to the industry or function in which you work? What problems were you passionate to solve? What contributions did you want to make?
Contemplating what influenced you, from personal experience to societal circumstances to a mentor who lit a fire in you, is all part of what has become a key element of paving a fulfilling career path: your career story. A career story goes way beyond your resume, degrees, or certifications. It’s a narrative that’s unique to you, where you have come from, and where you want to go.
Career stories have been lauded in recent years for the impact a good story can have during an interview. Tell me about yourself takes on a whole new meaning when you can present potential employers with a concise narrative of you, beyond your on-paper accomplishments, that creates a clear picture of what motivates you and makes you an ideal fit for a particular position.
But the value of an authentic career narrative is not only for how you present yourself to others, but in how you understand yourself. To ensure you control your own career path, and avoid losing sight of your ideals, your goals, your principals in your professional life, reminding yourself of your own career story can help you avoid detours that don’t pay off or dead-ends that make you wonder where you went off course. Reminding yourself of your story and checking that you are building on it in the right direction will keep you fulfilled in your work, because it will make what you do today more meaningful if you can see where it can take you in the long term.
Here are four tips to help you to craft a compelling and relative career story that will help you stay aligned with your deeper professional purpose and be better able to communicate that succinctly to potential employers.
- Decide where to start. Every narrative has a starting point. Think about when you first felt inspired to pursue the field in which you work. What problem did you want to solve? Where did you want to make a contribution? What changes did you want to make? Perhaps it was mid-career—if so, start there. Begin where you took action to get on the right path: Perhaps it was a course you followed or an internship or volunteer opportunity. Find examples to support this action.
- Connect the dots. Think about the career moves you’ve made. Think about the lessons you’ve learned, the people who have supported (or perhaps not!) you along the way, and how you were able to build on these learning moments to forge your path. If there’s a time where you took a sharp, unexpected turn, reflect on that.
- Be authentic. Don’t sugar coat. Being in charge and directing your career means finding where you’ve had agency in the past, and where the choices you made were not ideal. If we don’t recognize the challenges we’ve encountered, we can’t learn from them and regain authority over our story. If you are unhappy in your current professional role, spot where this began to be true, so you know how to get it back on track.
- Be concise. Depending on the length of your career to date, it can be easy to meander and lose focus. Like any story, a strong narrative is a narrow, focused one. Whether you are telling your story to yourself or a hiring manager, be able to present it in a concise way that can be fully understood and felt.
It’s easy as we climb the ladder or ride the treadmill—or any other work-life analogy you want to use—to lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing. To flourish in your professional life, it’s important to be sure your talents and energy are going to a purpose that motivates you and builds on your talent Crafting an authentic career story can help you keep that standard in mind.